NEW DELHI: The Art of Living foundation will have to pay the remaining Rs 4.75 crore environment compensation charge for holding an event on the Yamuna floodplain after the NGT on Tuesday rejected its plea to accept a bank guarantee instead.
The national green tribunal, which goes on summer break from Wednesday, said the foundation was indulging in multiplicity of litigation to wriggle out of paying the money and imposed a cost of Rs 5,000 on the foundation as its application “lacked bonafide”. Art of Living has to pay both the amounts within a week.
“Your conscience should be clear, let people say what they want to. You fulfil your obligations,” the bench told the Art of Living counsel.
The foundation said in a statement: “We find the verdict unjust and, if need be, after reviewing the order we will go to the Supreme Court. We have not violated any law or done any wrong.”
A group of activists had asked the NGT not to allow the event on the eco-sensitive floodplain, accusing the foundation of flattening the ground, destroying birds’ nesting sites and choking the polluted Yamuna with construction debris.
Before giving the go-ahead to the festival that triggered a huge row, the country’s only green court on March 9 asked Sri Sri Ravi Shankar founded Art of Living to deposit Rs 5 crore as initial compensation. The rest of the amount would be decided after a committee assessed the damage, it said.
The foundation paid only 25 lakh, promising to deposit the remaining amount after the event.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar had ordered a committee tasked with reviving Yamuna to assess the damage and submit a report.
Last week, the court asked the committee to inspect the festival site.
In a hearing on May 25, the NGT asked the foundation if it had deposited the money for damaging Yamuna’s biodiversity. The foundation, its counsel said, was ready to furnish the amount as bank guarantee instead of “payment of balance amount”. A bank guarantee is a promise from a bank or a lender to pay on behalf of its account holder.
The foundation on Tuesday said it did not agree with the tribunal’s observations.
“We were ready and willing to give a bank guarantee which served the purpose but our application has been wrongly dismissed. We will test the legality and see how we can correct the judgement. The Art of Living has neither polluted air, water or earth. We have left the WCF site in a better condition than what we had got. We have an extensive repertoire for environment work and find these allegations unacceptable,” a statement issued by the foundation said.
It also rejected the tribunal’s offer of including two more people in the expert committee that has to assess the damage to the floodplain.
“(We)...filed an application to reconstitute an independent and an unbiased expert committee to examine the alleged impact of the World Culture Festival on the Yamuna floodplains on the ground that the existing Committee had prejudged the issue and created a self imposed bias for itself. The NGT today offered to appoint two more members on the Committee on the condition that we withdraw our application and give up the grounds taken in it. We did not accept the offer,” the statement said.